I’m still thinking about All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr! That’s always a sign of a great book. Here are some of my favorite things, with only small spoilers:
First of all, can’t you just imagine a story taking place in this ancient walled city?
There are so many examples. Here are just a few:
- Doerr uses great imagery to make you understand how the characters feel about the war and the German occupation of France. Early on, Marie-Laure thinks she can smell gasoline under the wind, “As if a great river of machinery is steaming slowly, irrevocably, toward her.” (p. 61)
- And Doerr compares the machinery in the distance to Hitler, as Frau Elena sits in the orphanage parlor and worries, “Coal cars grind past in the wet dark. Machinery hums in the distance, pistols throbbing, belts turning. Smoothly. Madly.” (p. 65)
- Marie-Laure thinks about the bombing of Saint-Malo as if a big tree is being uprooted: “The notion occurs to her that the ground beneath Saint-Malo has been knitted together all along by the root structure of an immense tree, located at the center of the city, in a square no one ever walked her to, and the massive tree has been uprooted by the hand of God and the granite is coming with it, heaps and clumps and clods of stones pulling away as the trunk comes up, followed by the fat tendrils of roots – the root structure like another tree turned upside down and shoved into the soil..” (pp. 95-6)
Here are my favorites:
- Marie-Laure because of her courage.
- Papa and his love for Marie-Laure. I love his puzzle boxes and the miniature neighborhoods he builds to help her learn her way around.
- Werner despite his moral conflicts, because of what he does at the end and how he realizes that this is his moment, “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (p. 465)
- Madame Manec because of what she says to Etienne: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (p. 270) I love how this idea becomes an important recurring theme.
- Etienne because of how he transforms. When he acts, “he feels unshakable; he feels alive.” (p. 331)
- Volkheimer because he has both good and bad sides. As Doerr develops this character, he introduces another great recurring theme, “What you could be.” (p. 251)
- Frederick because of his courage to follow his own moral compass at Shulpforta.
Courage, love, defiance, overcoming the belief that we are all locked into unchangeable roles.
- Connections between characters and events that are not immediately apparent but are revealed later.
- Characters that disappear from the storyline after you start caring about them, forcing you to wonder how they are doing and what they are thinking. Not everyone likes this, but I think Doerr does it deliberately to make you think.
- Jumping back and forth between storylines and time periods. Some readers have complained about this. I think it forces you to think about what’s happening.
- References to light and the moon throughout the book, but no exact repetition of the title in the text. A late reference ties it all together.
- The mix of fairy-tale legends with wartime reality.
- Not everyone appreciates parallel references to books within a book’s story. Marie-Laure’s favorite book is Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne, and there are many references. I never read this one, but my general knowledge of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus was enough to make it work.
- Because this story takes place during World War 2, some readers think there aren’t enough references to the Holocaust and the major events of the war. I think All the Light We Cannot See is more a story about characters doing great things during a terrible period of history, and that Doerr purposely focuses on the characters, not all the events of the war, which figure prominently in many other historical fiction books.
- Some readers do not like Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel’s villainous character, saying it does not fit with the rest of the book. I think it’s a necessary device to incorporate the Sea of Flames diamond plot into the storyline, but I agree with some of the comments.
- Not everyone likes how the author ties up the story. You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean. I think the final chapters are necessary, and I always like when an author leaves a few loose ends for me to think about.
- I especially love the indirect reference to The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. Can’t say more because it will spoil the story!
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